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BOROUGH OF ST. Mary's.
St. Mary's is located in north latitude 41° 25' and longitude 1° 25', west of Washington, according to observations made by Stokes in 1849. It is located in the midst of a rich agricultural district on an elevated plateau, where the steep hills, common to all other sections of this part of Pennsylvania, are merged into a heavy-rolling table land about 1,900 feet above ocean level. The history of the town dates back to 1842. Its beginnings are told by documents in possession of Charles Luhr, from which the following story is taken:
Some lime in the early part of 1842, a committee from Baltimore and Philadelphia was chosen to go westward in search of uncultivated lands for the establishment of a colony. It has always been a great mystery to me how this committee ever found their way into the wilds of Elk, and under whose guidance, but such it was, nevertheless. On their return they reported favorably for this location. The lands were bought, and articles of agreement signed. The first meeting in Baltimore was held October 35, 1843, and reads as follows: "Minutes of the German Catholic Brotherhood of Philadelphia and Baltimore to found a colony in Jefferson and McKean counties, signed by John Kernliaas, secretary." Then follows a copy of the contract or agreement, made September 20, 1842. between the Fox Land Company, of Massachusetts, of the first part, and Nicklas Reimel, John Albert, Michael Derleth. Adolph Stockman. John Schad, Peter Brechtenvvald and Mathias Schweitzer, members of the Brotherhood from Philadelphia and Baltimore for the purchase of twenty-niue warrants of land in the counties of Clearfield, Jefferson and McKean (Elk not being formed at that time) for the sum of $24,668.62, or about 75 cents per acre, payable in rates. The last payment to be made in 1849. Sundry meetings were held during October, organizing the members, dividing them into several classes or installments, fixing payments, etc. On October28, a committee consisting of John Sosenheimer, John Winter, John Want and F. X. Bicberger, were chosen to start November 1 with the first installment for the colony, to meet ft similar party from Philadelphia. Two families were included in the first installment, viz.: Benedict Ziebel, wife and four children; Barthel Geyer, wife and three childrenfifteen persons in all, including the committee. Their route was laid out to Columbia. Penn., by railroad: thence by canal to Freeport; thence by the overland route to the place of destination. The bill of expenses for the party may be interesting to the readers and is recorded as follows: Transport and over-weight. S88.69; utensils, $13.46; groceries $18.02J; books, S2.75; cash, SSO; miscellaneous, $14.20i. Arriving at, Kersey, the party took up quarters with John Green; the house being too small for all, they had to take to the barn. As no road led. to the promised spot from this point, and only a few blazed trees being their guide, the sturdy pioneers did not shrink from their undertaking, but with a pack on their shoulders, leaving their families in Kersey in comfortable quarters, and following those few indications of a hunter's path, they arrived on the banks of Elk creek December 8, 1842. The site chosen for the first log hut was on the hill where now stands the home of Mr. Matthias Welleudorf. This gentleman and Mr. John Walker were of the first from the Philadelphia branch, and are the only two of the brave and enduring pioneers still residing here. December 8 being the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, and the name of the first white woman who trod the soil being also Mary, the colony was named St. Mary's. The men toiled all week in clearing lands, building log huts covered with hemlock bark, cutting and opening roads, and returning Saturday's to their families in Kersey, providing they did not miss the trail. As soon as a road was opened and sufficient huts were erected, the entire party moved to their future home.
Other names are given in connection with this settlement of December, 1842: Matthias Wellendorf, J. Walker, Herman Koch, F. J. Kellar, J. Vornbaum, A. Ewars, N. Hill, C. and M. Herbstritt, J. Dill, N. Reimel, J. and M. Albert, P. Reitenwald and Messrs. Kraus, Fingering, Krauter and Grirard— all from Philadelphia. A few days later the colonists from Baltimore arrived—I. Lehaut. B. Henebel, B. Greer, Caspar Wolfrom, G. Hassellman. Bartel Ox and Alderberger—who joined the first party at Kersey. As stated, the first cabin was raised on the Wellendorf home lot. J. Dill built a second, which is still standing. Late in December of the same year, as they had built enough shanties, they took their families in and began to cut down trees along St. Mary's road. The shanties and all other work done was made in common, so also had they a common store where they drew their rations. The clearing and the work in general progressed slowly. The community plan of working would not go—some were always sick, and others had some other ail ings or excuses—so that during the first year only a few town lots were cleared, although in the spring of 1843 the number of colonists was increased by the second installment from Philadelphia and Baltimore. About 1844 John Kaul, Andrew Dessler and John Raum arrived. While they were building their shanties the men used to come in on Mondays, take their rations along, camp out and return on Saturday to their families in Kersey. In one of their journeys to the settlement, Girard and his son, with their rations for the week, were a little behind the rest of the party, and went out of their path somewhere near Laurel run and lost themselves. They wandered about all day: when night came they built a fire, and as they had their- rations along for the whole week, they made a hearty supper. The next day they began wandering again and walked continually all day long. Toward evening they came to a place where a fire was smouldering, when the old man said: "Thank God! we must now be near some settlement, as there must have been some one here who has built this fire." While they were occupied in replenishing the fire and making arrangements for supper, the young man said: "Why, father, this is the place where we camped last night, and wo built this fire!" Next morning they resumed their jouruey; this time they struck a creek, which they followed, and toward evening they came out at Ridgway.
* In the fall of the year 1842, Father Alexander, from Baltimore, came to the colony by invitation. This gentleman, a man of great learning and experience, and a lover of rural life, became so convinced that the community plan would not work, that the settlement was bound to break up, and the labor and money already spent in the undertaking lost. He conceived another plan to save it, but this could only be carried out by some person of influence and moans. He, therefore, after consultation with the colonists, went back to Baltimore, and laid his plans before Col. Matthias Benzinger, a man known for his kindness, enterprise and experience. He prevailed on Col. Benzinger to come and look at the settlement. Late in the fall of 1843, Col. Benzinger came to the colony, and after examination concluded to buy the lands. The community society then had their contract annulled with Mr. Kinsbury, and Col. Benzinger then bought the colony lands, with some other adjoining, making about 66,600 acres. The following year, as soon as the season was favorable, part of the lands was laid out in farms of 25, 50 and 100 acres, and also part of the village of St. Mary's, and he gave each of the colonists of the community, who remained, 25 acres and one town lot free. Now each one was for himself, and the work and improvements went on well from that time. In 1844 John Kaul came from Bavaria and located for a time at St. Mary's, but subsequently settled on his farm. In the fall of the year 1844, George Weis came to the colony and put up a store at the house of J. Walker, then the largest and best in the place, and in the following spring built his store
* Early In the summer of 184:s Rev. Father Borgess, of Trinity Church, Philadelphia, visited the settlement, after holding services In the old church at lrlshtown. He advised the polneers to disbandto leave the wilderness; but they persevered, and converted the wilderness Into a garden spot, their earnestness winning additions In 1843. In 1844, during the Know-nothing riots in Philadelphia, a number of I'hlladelphians sought refuge from political and religious troubles here: George Weis. Philip Stephan, Lotus and Adam Vollmer. Gerhard Schoenlng. B. Weiilenboerner, A. Ktmtz and others not so well known. Baron Charles Van Ersel died at St. Mary's, August 3, 1851. He came from Belgium in 1849. and was preparing a home for his wife and children when death called him away. He died m the house of Charles l.uhr, of appoplexy. Ignatius Garner administered the estate. Francis J. Keller, who arrived with the first colonists, December 8,1842. died in October, 1881, leaving Messrs. Wellendorf, Walker and Avis, the only contemporary polneers. surviving. Gerhard Schoenlng died in October, 1883. He came to the United States from Prussia In 1837, and early in the "forties " was one of the three agents sent to select lands in Elk county for the German colony. Old Mrs. Eric, who died at St. Mary's In January, 1873. is said to have been born in 1767. Louis Vollmer. born in Bavaria July 25,1818, came to the United States In September, 1841. and to St. Mary's in 1845. he died January 5,1889. Mrs. Ileindl. a settler of 1S4«, died late in the fall.
I house and store on the north side of Elk creek. About the same time Col. Benzinger engaged Ignatius Garner as agent and general director of the colony, and early in the year 1845 Mr. Garner went to Europe with Rev. Cartuyvels, and came back in July with a good number of substantial settlers. About this time Baron Von Schroeder, of Munich, joined Benzinger in partnership. From that time the colony made rapid progress, settlers coming from Europe and all parts of the United States. A large three-story log house was built on the south side of Elk creek, with twenty-four rooms, where the colonists found shelter until they could build houses for themselves. At the same time a neat church was built, and also the large saw-mill on Elk and Silver creeks, by Father Alexander, who made his residence here, and by his good example, cheerfulness and liberality, contributed largely to the success of the colony. At the same time, Col. Benzinger took into partnership John Eschbach, another wealthy and influential citizen of Baltimore. These two gentlemen did not spare any time or money to make the colony a success. Roads were now laid out and opened at the expense of the company. These road openings gave work to those in need, and from one to two hundred dollars were paid out weekly by their agent for these purposes. In the fall of the year application was made for a post-office, as the nearest post-office was then nine miles from St. Mary's, at Daniel Hyatt's, and a special office was granted on the 19th of November, 1845, and Ignatius Garner appointed as postmaster. In the first quarter 222 letters were sent, and the amount of money received was $16.83. During the September term the court of Elk county granted the formation of Benzinger township, and the legislature early in their session appointed an election house.
During the summer of 1846 Joseph Luhr came to St. Mary's and opened his hotel, which many a traveler will remember on account of the kindness of the landlord and the good fare received. The colony increased steadily. In January, 1847, the number of souls amounted already to 980. The colonists were laborious, frugal and always cheerful. The prospects were often gloomy, yet perseverance overcame all. The festivals of the church and the national holidays were always regularly kept. Many an inhabitant of Elk, and even adjoining counties will remember the 4th of July which they celebrated in common with the inhabitants. In the spring of the year 1848 Benzinger and Eschbach took into partnership William A. Stokes, a renowned lawyer from Philadelphia, who came to St. Mary's with his family on the 4th of July, in the same year, with the intention of making his residence in the colony. He commenced to clear the Roselay farm, about four miles east of St. Mary's, and to build a mansion on it. His wife, being in delicate health when he came here, died about a year after their arrival, so he sold out in the fall of 1849 and returned to Philadelphia. Rev. J. L. Y. Cartuyvels became his successor in partnership, and finished the clearing and building of the Roselay farm. The church and parsonage, which was built, in 1845, was situate in the triangle formed by Centre, Markus and Cross streets, and was destroyed by fire, with all its contents, on the 10th of May, 1859, in the day time, the origin of the fire being unknown. This was a sorrowful day for the inhabitants of St. Mary's, but they did not despair. Preparations were soon made to build another and more substantial church nearer the center of the town. The place was selected in a dense forest, but willing hands had it soon cleared; materials were prepared and collected, and on the 27th of June, 1852, it was so far advanced as to have the corner-stone laid. The work went on gradually so that on the 8th of December, 1853, the church was opened.
Municipal Affairs.—The town of St. Mary's was incorporated by special